Banking Transparency Gone Amok!

Did Citibank — the world’s leading consumer bank — start a trend that has gone too far?

July 6, 2000

Did Citibank — the world's leading consumer bank — start a trend that has gone too far?

The new look was a bold statement of Citibank’s commitment to transparency and disclosure. Even in the United States, many retail banks have only recently begun to imitate their rival — and not always achieving Citibank’s level of success. In fact, there is at least one bank in Washington, D.C., that seems to have taken Citibank’s concept of openness a step too far — and far too literally.

This is perhaps understandable. Once a market leader has introduced a new concept, funny things sometimes happen when the invention — in this case the new design of bank branches — shakes down to its competitors.

Citibank itself takes great pains to ensure that all financial records are kept neatly in drawers and off desks. Hoods shield employees’ computer monitors from curious onlookers. Furniture and desks are positioned so that financial information is kept out of sight of wandering eyes — including those of customers inside the branch and those of people passing by on the street outside.

Other banks apparently have lower standards for the protection of their customers’ private information. In fact, a certain bank on one of Washington’s main pedestrian thoroughfares was baring it all recently. Not-so-neatly stacked on a table in front of the street-level window, one of the bank’s loan officers had left several completed credit applications in full view of passersby.

Want to know why Jane Doe needs $10,000 loan? How can John Doe qualify for a hefty new home mortgage with his current salary? It was all right there for prying eyes. So, while transparency in the banking industry has had many positive results, this particular bank seemed to be offering transparency in a distinctly undesirable form.